A description of my current book manuscript, Measured Movements, can be found below. Other projects have investigated the material history of the ballet pointe shoe, the sexual rehabilitation of paraplegic WWII veterans, the art-making behavior of primates, and the relationship between modern technology and religion.
Measured Movements: Science, the Body, and the Choreography of Modern Life
My current book manuscript, Measured Movements: The Human Body and the Choreography of Modern Life, illuminates how a technology designed to record movement became a tool for managing social, cultural, and political life in the United States and United Kingdom after World War II. Developed by the German choreographer (and future Nazi Minister of Dance) Rudolf Laban in the 1920s, “Labanotation” employed a complicated “scientific” symbology to capture bodily movement on paper. Each chapter of the book explores a new episode in Labanotation’s movement from Nazi Germany to the factories, hospitals, and corporate boardrooms of Britain and the United States. There, it was used to provide spiritual salve for exhausted assembly line workers, to identify and treat war veterans and Holocaust survivors, to screen white-collar job applicants, and by folklorist Alan Lomax to assuage Americans’ unease about a multicultural world. Labanotation’s surprising appeal, I argue, derived from the twin promises it made to its users. First, that movement could provide individuals with a source of emotional solace, personal expression, and spiritual redemption. And, second, that this expressive potential would never go too far: movement would be continually monitored, broken down into its constituent parts, and put in the service of modern states, institutions, and bureaucracies. In creating a notation system ostensibly capable of turning any movement into easily analyzable data, Laban’s work not only served to preserve a fading past, but seemed to open up new possibilities for the literal choreographing of modern life.
Upcoming and Recent Events
New York Academy of Sciences, Lyceum Society
June 3, 2019
Princeton University, History of Science Colloquium
University of Pennsylvania, Collaborative Pedagogies in the Global History of Science
Society for the History of Technology
Johns Hopkins University, Colloquium in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology
Purdue University, Science and Technology in the Long 20th Century